Odds & Ends II

Jim talks about problems with Magic Online, a unique idea he has for a team tournament, and cards he’s adding to his Cube from Commander 2013.

Today I want to touch on a few topics I’ve been meaning to talk about and the big hot-button issue of the moment.

Magic Online

Anyone who has played Magic Online at all for any length of time has had some experience similar to the one [author name="Brian Kibler"]Brian Kibler[/author] had last weekend with the MOCS. As someone who has played Magic Online since its inception and been through more issues than I could possibly even begin to recount, I want to chime in on the subject.

First off, in a way I am glad this happened to Brian. Now, Brian’s a swell guy and I wish him no ill will, but he is also a loud and respected voice in the community. Brian’s popularity transcends the tournament Magic scene to more casual players as well, and he is also an articulate speaker, as we can see in his articles and his piece about Magic Online. As a Magic Hall of Fame member, Pro Tour champion, and popular public figure for the game, one can only hope that his voice will inspire some sort of action.

After reading Brian’s article, I imagine there will be two types of responses:

Any Magic player (or game player in general) who has not played Magic Online will likely be shocked and appalled by the startling lack of competence shown in the client and by the consistent major problems happening in major events with very large numbers of players.

Any Magic Online player will completely unfazed simply shrug it off as a common occurrence because they are so damn used to it and then jump into the next draft.

This is a serious problem.

I’ve been playing Magic Online since it looked like this:




Magic Online is literally responsible for the Magic player I am today. I started playing Magic Online as essentially a casual player after high school, and after playing for two years on Magic Online, my first real-life tournament ever was an Onslaught block Sealed Deck PTQ at Neutral Ground in New York City, which I made the Top 8 of with my 1600 rating. Trust me when I say nobody has wanted or wants Magic Online to be successful more than me.

But as much as it saddens me to say, it’s been this bad since the beginning.

We’ve been through multiple different clients that have taken literally years of development, and none of them have ever worked as advertized. Almost every major type of tournament ever attempted on Magic Online, whether it was a PTQ, MOCS, or even just a large release event, has encountered some sort of catastrophic problem. The current client is buggy (Swiss standings bug—aarrrggg!), archaic, and still doesn’t contain many of the features promised when it was released in 2007. That was six years ago.

The level of incompetency displayed in a program that supposedly accounts for 30-50% of Magic’s entire business is unbelievable.

Yet the constant grumbling from the populace has become nothing more than background noise because again after all the grumbles people still play and jump into the next draft. Magic Online has no real competition; if you want to play Magic: The Gathering online in a clean and enjoyable way (I don’t consider Magic Workstation to be enjoyable), Magic Online is all you get.

So what should be done?

Frankly I think it’s insulting to the customer that Magic Online is still developed in house. It takes them years to develop new clients that have just as many shortcomings as previous ones, and who knows how much money they have wasted during this process.

Wizards of the Coast should outsource the client to a major game-design company. Call up Blizzard or Riot Games and throw some money on the table. Do you think Blizzard would ever stand to release a project that is one-tenth the quality of Magic Online? It would be inconceivable. I understand that there would be issues with this since I’m sure Wizards wants to be in control of people’s collections and to run their own updates. But you know what? It’s sink or swim—Wizards, stop making excuses and figure it out.

Will it be expensive? Absolutely. Will it be worth it in the long run? Absolutely.

Do I have all the answers? (Or perhaps even the proper questions?)

Of course not.

But for a company to toil away in mediocrity for years without ever making major improvements in a product that has both a huge user base and an even bigger potential user base is almost criminal.

Wizards . . . figure it out.

Team Events


Let’s get two things very clear:

1. Team events are awesome.
2. Team events are very difficult to run logistically.

StarCityGames.com ran a number of Team Sealed events this year on the Open Series, and while they were a ton of fun, running such a large Sealed event brings up numerous logistical problems. The most recent SCG Open Team Sealed event I played saw the tournament start at 9:00 AM. My team made the Top 4, finished our Top 4 match around 1:30 AM, and had to be back for our finals draft the next morning at 8:00 AM sharp. We also had to squeeze in eating dinner, driving half an hour each way, and trying to get some semblance of sleep. That’s a pretty insane schedule, but it is logistically necessary to try to get an entire Sealed event into one day.

I find it completely reasonable and understandable that StarCityGames.com decided to stop running the Team Sealed events despite the excellent turnouts and positive responses.

There was also some experimentation with double Standard weekends and some public clamor for possibly making some Sundays Modern instead of Legacy. Now, of course, all three of these groups have their (very loud) benefactors and detractors. Legacy players love Legacy. Standard players love Standard. Modern players, either due to poor taste or not owning enough Legacy cards, like Modern. Card availability is the major issue facing Legacy Sundays, and of course you can’t make everybody happy.

Some people want Standard Sundays.

Some people want Legacy Sundays.

Some people want Modern Sundays.

Some people want Team Sealed Sundays.

Oh well . . . can’t please everyone all the time, right?

Of course you can!

I propose StarCityGames.com try running a Team Constructed event on a Sunday. Very similar to the Team Constructed that is used for the team portion of the World Championship, it would be run as follows:

The A seat is your Standard player, the B seat is your Legacy player, and the C seat is your Modern player. Matches are played best two out of three, and the first team to two match wins is the winner of the round.

While it would be awesome to use the Unified Constructed rules, which only allow four copies of any card to be used for the entire team (for example, you would only be allowed four Scavenging Oozes to be played between all three decks), I believe that it might just be too much of a logistical headache to be worth it. 

This would be a fantastic way to accommodate all of the people who want to play their own personal formats and also helps to solve card availability problems because your friend who only has a Standard deck can now come for the whole weekend and play with you while you still get you play your fully pimped-out Legacy deck that you’ve spent so much hard-earned money and time on. And everyone gets to enjoy the camaraderie and rivalry that the team format creates.

As an extra incentive for players, StarCityGames.com should also set up some sort of social media platform, probably through Facebook, to help join players who may not have a team. They have done this to some extent in the past, but this is crucial for players who may be new to an area or simply not know enough people yet who play. What better way to make friends then getting down in the trenches with them?

This is an idea I really see very few flaws with and I would love to hear everyone’s opinions on.

Commander 2013 Cube Additions

Let’s get one thing straight—I hate everything about this card except for its intended purpose: multiplayer.

Looking at this card from a Legacy and Cube standpoint, it simply makes very little sense. From a flavor perspective, why the hell is this card blue? When does blue get good protection effects? And why does blue, the best color in Legacy, need more powerful cards? Shouldn’t this card be white? As a difficult-to-cast white card, this might have been somewhat interesting in Legacy since very few of the top decks can reliably produce two white mana on turn 3 without warping their mana bases somewhat. White is traditionally one of the weakest colors in Magic, and giving it an interesting and powerful tool would at least shift the balance somewhat in both Cube-style formats and Legacy.

Aside from the ridiculously poor flavor, this card takes all the common complaints about hexproof and exacerbates them ten-fold since it completely removes interaction from the game. Unless you have a specific answer like a counterspell, an edict effect, or some sort of minus-toughness effect, you cannot effectively interact with it.

Of course I’m not saying this card is broken in Legacy because frankly it’s not. There are many decks doing far more broken things than casting a three mana 3/1, and I don’t think it’s going to warp the format. However, just because Invisible Stalker never really warped the format around it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a very poorly designed card that was miserable to play against.

This is a card that despite its obvious power level and Legacy playability I will not be adding to my Cube. It’s a card that I don’t think really helps any strategy along aside just from being a good card, and it dissuades interactivity. Most importantly, it just doesn’t seem like a very fun card to play with or against.

This card however is one I am very high on. While True-Name Nemesis does not promote interaction or help to push any sort of particular archetype, this card does a fantastic job at helping to push the sacrifice theme present in black in my Cube while also pushing the token theme present in white.

I recently added a Human subtheme to my Cube when I noticed that so many of the good creatures in the Cube were Humans, and I’ve been very happy with it. Ophiomancer fits into this theme perfectly. It also is great with sacrifice effects like Carrion Feeder and Greater Gargadon and token-synergy cards like Opposition and Accorder Paladin.

Most importantly though is that Ophiomancer is a sweet synergy card that is also of a high power level itself. Even without any synergies, Ophiomancer is not an embarrassing card, and that is my favorite kind of Cube card—a card that is usually good and can be made great with some work.

This card also excites me. I think Time Ebb is a sweet card, and Temporal Spring is often in and out of my Cube. Costing this effect at only two mana, making it an instant, and allowing it to hit any permanent is by far the most effective we’ve ever seen it, and if that was all it did, I think it would be under heavy consideration for Cubes. However, being able to scale the effect up with the X cost makes the card truly interesting.

This is a card that both aggressive decks and control decks can make excellent use of, and it does so in a very unique and creative way from a gameplay perspective. Putting a problem card three from the top creates a very dramatic in-game tension that is awesome, and having that number be different every game gives the card a very fresh feeling each time it is cast.

The fact that it can also hit any nonland permanent is also a major factor in Cube drafts, as the sheer number of different threatening cards you will have to face is daunting. Flexibility in a removal spell is paramount.

This card is a fantastic addition to Cubes, and I’m very much looking forward to doing all sorts of fun things with it.

Wrapping Up

We talked about a number of different things in this article, and I would love to hear your opinions about any and all of them in the comments section.

Stay tuned for next week, when challenger Dave Porter will be taking on reigning champ Rob Caperino in the next episode of . . . So You Think You Can Brew!